Equipment supporting a high-tech Internet communications system that links rural fire stations throughout the county was taken out of a Valley Center fire station Friday by the San Diego County Fire Authority, apparently as part of an ongoing contractual dispute over staffing of the Valley Center Fire Protection District.
Cal Fire/Fire Authority officials also disconnected the ASAPnet system at Valley Center’s second fire station, but were barred from removing equipment there by a fire district administrator who said they would need a court order before touching anything.
The administrator, John Byrne, said ownership of the equipment is in dispute and that disconnecting Valley Center stations from the system could hurt future firefighting efforts.
Cal Fire said the action was taken because the Valley Center district recently disassociated itself from the fire authority and no longer has the right to use the equipment.
The Internet connectivity system — which officials say boosts public safety by improving communications and providing “situational awareness” for firefighters — was recently the subject of a news conference at UC San Diego.
At that event, several officials — including County Supervisor Ron Roberts, scientists who invented the system and Cal Fire Unit Chief Thom Porter — said the system allows backcountry departments access to all sorts of information such as real-time wind readings that are useful in fire protection efforts.
The county Fire Authority was created in 2008, a year after the second of two massive firestorms swept through the region.
The agency’s goal was to unite backcountry fire departments under one command, thereby improving fire protection and medical services throughout the county. But consolidation hasn’t sat well with some rural departments upset by the loss of local control.
Until recently, the Valley Center district had been working under a “cooperative agreement” contract with the Fire Authority that kept Cal Fire personnel manning the two big Valley Center stations — a requirement set by the Authority.
But earlier this year, the Valley Center district decided to step away from county control by replacing all personnel at its two stations with reserve firefighters and with fire crews from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indian’s Fire Department. District officials said that sticking with Cal Fire personnel would have financially crippled the district.
After Byrne heard last week that the Fire Authority was planning to remove the wireless equipment and antennas from the stations, he sent an Aug. 27 letter to supervisors Bill Horn and Ron Roberts, Porter and the manager of the county’s Public Safety Group. Byrne’s letter also went to San Diego Gas & Electric, which provided much of the funding for the ASAPnet system.
The letter said cutting Valley Center off from the system would be “counterintuitive and counterproductive.” It also pointed to an Aug. 13 news release from Roberts’ office that said, in part, the system was “mproving public safety while providing greater tools and information to help safeguard the firefighters and emergency response personnel …'”
On Tuesday, Cal Fire Spokesman Mike Mohler said in a written statement to U-T San Diego that the ASAPnet system is a way to fully integrate online training for Cal Fire employees and cooperating members, not for independent districts.
For more information, view www.utsandiego.com